Saturday, October 17, 2009

Vending Table

I did a vending table at an event today.  Kind of hard to describe the event.  It was kind of a performance competition in the Bardic tradition.  It was the first annual Eisteddfod.  Yeah, I don't know either, but that's what it's called.  My best friend was running it so surprise surprise!  I was one of the vendors.

Some might say the event was a failure.  Due to torrential rains, the economy, and possibly not the best advertising, I'd say that all in all about 30 people were there all day.  That includes us vendors and other staff members.  There was not a lot of cash changing hands.

And yet despite this, I walked away feeling pretty darned good about it.  A lot of times when you're vending, you're staring at the clock, bored out of your mind, just wanting to get the hell out of there.  I didn't find myself doing that this time.  Everyone was very enthusiastic about my work with the kinds of compliments that tell you they know what they're talking about and actually mean what they are saying. 

For this event, I had raised my prices significantly.  I used to be drastically underpriced and now I'd say my prices are modest but average.  Not a single person commented on my prices!  I was afraid of that "oh, I like it but I can't afford it" or "oh gee, can you let this go for $5 cheaper?"  Nope, not a single comment.  The few people who purchased my stuff simply handed over the cash, a few compliments, and seemed very pleased with their purchase.

All in all, I'm very inexperienced at vending, but here's a few things that seemed to work for me today.

1)  Levels

I was given a standard 6 foot table.  I found that by taking the leaf out of the old dining table in my pottery studio, I had an additional surface that was 4 feet wide by 1.5 feet deep and about 2 inches tall.  I took some kiln stilts and layed them sideways and put them under each side of the leaf.  This raised it an additional 2 inches or so.  This gave the table a raised platform on the back half of the table in the center.  Once I laid the tablecloths over it, it looked wonderful. 

In addition, I now had a 4 inch high cubby hole for me to put my money box, book, phone, food, extra bags, etc.  It was almost like being given a whole new table space.  In addition, I had an overturned cafeteria serving tray which was about 6 inches high under the tablecloth on one corner of the table which I put a laptop on (more on this later). 

I also had a set of 3 box-frame-shelf thingies (here) along the back of the table which gave me not only small shelves to set various mugs on, but also framed some of my showpieces.  Since they are all different sizes, they make for some nice visual variety and they embed into one another when packing up.

When you spread out pottery on a flat surface, it's all chaotic and just a mess to the eye.  You can't actually see any of the pieces.  With these little changes, my whole table looked organized, everything was visible, a few items were highlighted, and it was visually appealing.  I'm a dork and didn't take any pictures, but a friend did so I'll edit a few in as soon as I get them.

EDIT: Adding a picture! 

2)  Video - USE IT

In my real life, I'm a videographer.  So my real life and my hobby life needed to come together.  I gave up a precious square foot of table real estate to house a laptop with a video on a loop.  You can see it here.  It has no sound because I don't want to bother other vendors or listen to it myself all day.

Best use of table real estate EVER!!!  I suck at striking up conversation.  I usually rely on my best friend to do it for me because she can chat up anybody about any topic.  But she was doing other things today and I couldn't use her as a crutch.  This video did more for my table than anything else could.  It made everyone take notice of my table, they stopped at my table to watch the video, and they then asked questions about it which made me able to converse comfortably.

When I made the video, I just thought that having something moving would be a little eye-catching and it might make people pause long enough to give my wares a quick once over.  I had no idea it would be as effective as it was.  People would actually watch the entire 8 1/2 minutes of it and then talk to me about it as it played through again!  They would laugh at the snarky comments I embedded.  Then they would pick up all sorts of mugs and stuff at my table and really look at them while chatting like crazy with me.  And for those who just stood and watched, I was able to simply say "Oh, this is the finished mug that you see being made in the video" and ta-da!!  Instant conversation! 

If you clicked over and watched the video, you'll probably see that it's not the most fascinating thing ever.  But in the context of a craft fair, it may was well have been the yet to be made next Harry Potter movie.  People were just so fascinated by it!

Seriously, if you can make a video of yourself on the wheel, do it.  Totally.  Recommending it again, make a video.

3)  Trading

Very few people can go to a craft fair and walk out with more money than they went it with, usually because all of your income becomes outgo as you peruse other tables.  Trade with people.  They will probably love your work, you'll get what you want from them, and they will give you all sorts of tips and tricks to selling at fairs.  Not to mention it really tells you a lot about what people like and don't like if you can watch someone look over your stuff when they can choose to take anything they like.  You'll get a really good idea of what people are naturally attracted to so you can call it "marketing research costs".

You also build up good will with other vendors.  Be nice to them, they may be the ones who sell for you while you're in the potty and they might let you use their credit card machine if you don't have that capability.

4)  Be near the coffee

This is kind of a no brainer but for potters, this advice is ten-fold.  Knowing that this particular crowd might be more inclined to prefer a reusable mug to a styrafoam cup, the organizers let me put a bunch of my crappy mugs on the table with the coffee.  Now this not only gives you more table space to spread out on, but it also gives you a chance to get rid of all of those crap mugs that you want a couple of bucks for but don't want to sacrifice your own table space for.

I put half a dozen of my "seconds" next to the coffee with $5 price tags.  It was my first sale of the day.  A woman liked one of the mugs (one that I can only see flaws in), turned to me and asked if I was the person to pay, she bought the mug and got herself a cup of coffee.  I tossed a buck back into the "suggested donation" bucket to pay the event back for the coffee.  She likes her mug when she wouldn't have been able to afford one of my better mugs, less environmental impact, and I get the damned thing out of my house plus an extra $4!  I would have been just as happy to give the damn thing away.

If you're next to the food, people will naturally come to you.  If you're selling something that will assist them in eating the food, sales are imminent.  And if you're willing to keep an eye on the coffeepot and money bucket, the organizers will be thrilled to just let you handle it (and spread your stuff out on their table) while they do more important things.

5)  Packing it in

Bring extra newspaper.  I have no idea how, but when we were packing up at the end of the day, we had less packing material than we started with.  Theoretically this can't be possible since we didn't use any of the packing material when selling the pottery and we had less pottery needing packing material when we were leaving, and yet we ran out when packing back up.  I have no idea how that happened.

Remember those $5 mugs on the coffee table?  Not worth repacking.  While everyone is breaking down, just shout out that if anyone wants one, they should simply take it so you don't have to pack it.  Go ahead and announce that these are your crippy crappy mugs that you don't like and you'd rather give them away then deal with them anymore.  Anyone who would have bought a mug at this point has done so and has left.  Now those who couldn't afford it or were too shy can now grab one (with a business card in it) and their last impression of the day is that cool pottery person who gave them a mug.  That's a good last impression.  Not to mention, they usually can't find any flaws even though you can't see anything but them.  Now you have a group of people who are looking at what you consider crap, they love it, and wow if this is crap, your good stuff must be fantastic!  And again, you get that crap out of your house.

6)  Donate to the raffles

They had raffles at this event where anything worth less than $45 would be raffled for $1 and anything over that would be raffled for $5.  As people won, they were able to select an item from a variety of stuff donated by the various vendors.

My stuff kept getting selected.  A woman is now treasuring a vase that has been the bane of my existence since the day I created it.  Too nice to take a hammer to, but I couldn't find any purpose for it and couldn't figure out how to market it.  It was a round brown vase for goodness sakes.  How do you get noticed on Etsy for a round brown vase?  But now someone loves it.  And it's out of my house.  And she came over to my table to tell me how much she loved it and then went on to tell me how much she loves that mug, and that bowl, etc etc.

So I kept donating more stuff.  Lots of people now have my stuff and they consider themselves lucky to have it.  That's good marketing.  And I didn't have to carry it back home.

Now I know what you're thinking.  It seems like I gave away a whole lotta stuff.  Well, yeah, I did.  I don't create pottery to make money.  I have a day job for that.  I refuse to turn pottery into a bona fide business because I want to purely enjoy it.  If I collect a ton of it and someone gives me the opportunity to sell it off, swell, but that's not why I make it.

However, over the years I've become pretty good and pretty fast at making it.  My house is overflowing with stuff that is too good to throw out but not so great that I want to keep it.  So yes, I want to sell it.  So I'm investing in some long term marketing.  As far as I'm concerned, these are all just big business cards.  If you have stuff that you want gone and it doesn't really cost you anything to give it away, just give it away.  People will remember you and your name gets out there.  There's no way to calculate how this will come back to you, but trust that it will.  I really believe that my pottery is far more valuable today because of what I gave away in good marketing karma yesterday.

7)  It ain't all about the Benjamins

All in all, I took in a total of $60 today.  The organizers were unhappy about the lack of turnout so they waived all the vending fees as an apology.  That cash paid for the gas and food for the day for me and the hubby so I'd say I broke about even.

However, It was a great exercise in market research.  This is my third (I think) experience trying to sell my pottery at an event like this.  My table looked SOOOO much better than it has in the past.  I learned that the video will not only make people pause at your table, it makes them engage with you and your wares.

And I'm a flattery whore.  True compliments, and I don't mean the empty "you have nice stuff" compliments, I mean the "ooohhh, you throw these so thin!  This feels so nice in the hand.  Wow, I've never seen that style before, how did you make it?" compliments are worth more to me than any amount of cash.  And that's because I now feel like my stuff is actually worthy.  It's worth what to me is a high price.  It is good enough to stand side by side with those who craft for a living. 

I'm now excited to do my next event when before I've always dreaded it.  And if I'm excited to do an event, and will now seek them out and actually enter them, I'll eventually earn a whole lot more $$$ than I would have if I were still feeling inferior and hiding my stuff from the potential customers out there in the world.


Marti C. said...

I enjoyed and learned from your blog and I thank you.

Alorinna said...

Wonderful article, thank you!!

Treasures by Tina said...

Thanks so much for sharing your experience! I've got a table at an event on Saturday, and hope to at least break even too. ;)

Paula said...

Awesome commentary. I'll get Daniel to send you those photos. he's online now.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for those wonderful tips, including the one about the video. I am planning on getting one of those digital picture frames to show pics of my wares! but I've never thought of a video! go figure!

Designs by Dawn Marie said...

Great video first off... I watched it completely through twice and left a comment over there as well.

I found your blog entry when I was looking for info on how to successfully do a craft fair booth in the artfire forums. I have to say, all of your tips are WONDERFUL.

Thanks so much for sharing your expertise. I will be doing my first live event at the end of this month as an Open House style with a friend who also sells her wares. I'm looking forward to it and to meeting some local people.

Great "meeting" you again! I hope as I write this (many, many months after you originally posted it) that you've had a wonderful summer and have had tremendous success at craft shows you've done.

Have a terrific day!